Defaults Finished, Negative Replies, Simulated Boredom

All the remaining default conversation options, and all the remaining expansions, are now complete. I’ve also altered the expansion code such that certain expansions aren’t tied to certain words or sentences within a language and guaranteed to appear whenever that sentence or word is said, but instead they appear with a % chance for every instance of a particularly word or phrase someone in that dialect says, depending on their sentence complexity (as we discussed before, sentence complexity is now tied to individuals, not to entire cultures). Here’s a couple of examples, courtesy of our good playtesting friend, Orangejaw Moonblizzard, and some NPCs who may or may not have had their origins changed using admin commands for the sake of testing (as you’ll notice these replies could not be for the same nation!)…

OJ1

OJ2

Negative Replies

The big thing this week and weekend has been working on negative replies – so, for instance, if you ask “Are we near the desert?”, the default response is “We are near [desert] in [direction]”, or whatever, but obviously a valid option is “We are not near the desert” – and this obviously applies to loads of questions. What if the speaker’s nation has no army, or dislikes art, or have never travelled, or doesn’t know any other civilizations, or lives on a tiny island and knows nothing of the wider world, or doesn’t worship a religion, and so on? We therefore now have a body of negative replies for people to basically say “no”, “that’s irrelevant”, “I don’t know”, or “I don’t care”, in hundreds of thousands of interesting ways!

These negative replies effectively now split up into two categories, which we could usefully call “general” and “specific” negative replies. “General” negative replies include replies like “I don’t know”, “I don’t remember”, “I’d rather not answer”, “I’m not authorized to give you that information”, etc, which can apply to a huge range of NPCs in a huge range of situations. Since the player will run into these fairly often, I’ve made sure that there’s a lot of variation in these general negative responses – although in many cases, of course, there’s only so many ways that you can actually utter some of these things, but here are a few examples.

OJ3

“Specific” negative replies refer to asking a question where the answer is still answering the question, rather than a general answer, but still a negative. For instance, if you ask someone what they think a particular policy in their nation should be, they might reply “I have no interest in politics”, or if you ask someone whether they know any distant cities you might want to visit, they might say “I know of no distant cities” – and so on and so forth. Each of these is often more specific and more varied than the above, so I’m trying to bias people towards using these wherever possible, although they are naturally dependent upon particular cultural/political/religious situations.

OJ4

Crowd Disinterest

You’ll all recall the “conversation interest” idea that URR conversations will have implemented – that unless you ask relevant questions, NPCs will quickly lose interest in talking to you. This is to stop the player just going through every single question one after the other, and to encourage you towards asking sensible, logical and appropriate questions. However, I realized the other day that I can’t just limit this to a specific NPC getting bored; if you have a bunch of general questions you’re asking every soldier, for instance, then you could just go from one soldier over to the next soldier in the barracks and start questioning them, ignoring the questions you already asked Soldier 1, but assuming (quite fairly) that they will probably respond the same way, seeing as both Soldier 1 and Soldier 2 are just default soldiers.

Therefore, I need to implement some kind of “crowd disinterest” solution, and I think I’m going to do this on two levels. On the “local level”, NPCs within a building will see who you’re talking to and what you’re asking them about, and also within a map grid (within your line of sight, or nearby), and will take note of the questions. So if you question Soldier 1 about pointless stuff, and they tell you to go away, then you start asking Soldier 2 pointless stuff, the time it’ll take Soldier 2 to lose interest will be shorter than normal; Soldier 3’s will then be even shorter; and so forth. Then, at the global level, I think we need a system whereby information about the player slowly spreads through cultures/cities/religions/etc in the entire world so that people get some idea of whether they should respond to the player or not. Neither of these systems will be in 0.8, but they definitely need to be there.

Next Week

Remember those two new conversation features I mentioned a while back – replies and counter-questions – and also all those questions that have more complex replies, such as lists? Some combination of those will be coming next week – probably the complex replies, I would think. See you then!

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20 thoughts on “Defaults Finished, Negative Replies, Simulated Boredom

  1. Ok, just to get a more specific list of what needs to be done before .8 can be released. Default negative responses and what else?

    • Let’s see – replies, counter-questions, more complex answers, adding things like “Hmm” and “So” before certain sentences, changing how expansions are added, connecting variables (like “[god]”) to the actual words they should be, and then a general bug-fixing sweep. I try never to offer release date predictions any more, but hopefully September…

  2. But what if out of 5 soldiers in the room, 1 loves to talk about politics? Wouldn’t he be like “oh boy, ask me, ask me! i know everything about it!”? I think it would hurt diversity a bit if instead of individual interests there would be group interests.

    • Hmm, interesting point. I mean, naturally all those from one NPC class are going to be somewhat broadly similar, although the higher-ranked ones will vary more, so obviously rulers will vary more than common soldiers, etc. And the group thing is more about a gameplay optimization/mechanic than going for absolute realism, though I do take your point. That’s why some individuals in common groups are special NPCs and tracked by the game – e.g. a prison might have 50 prisoners, 48 of whom are just decoration, but two are actually special and have broader importance in the world, and they will likely be more willing to talk…

  3. The “crowd disinterest” variable is an interesting idea, sort of like having your character gaining a bad reputation as being nosy (or perhaps people will think you’re an inept spy or an annoying tourist). I do think that the effects should be fairly limited, though; some players might want to ask a lot of questions to learn about the game world early on, and it might get frustrating to be “locked out” of conversations too soon (as poor OJ MB seems to have done in the last two conversations. Or maybe his impressive face tattoo scared off Jer-Wuf and Bub-Not).

    Of course, if someone is disinclined to talk due to crowd disinterest, perhaps a small bribe/gift might overcome their reluctance…

    • These are interesting points. This leads me to ask whether you’ll include more in-game documentation and instructions at some point. That has always been a problem with many roguelikes, a lack of explaining non-spoiler game mechanics that you actually want people to know about (beyond explaining things you want them to find out for themselves).

      • More documentation: yes, definitely. The “Guidebook” needs a rework at some point before 0.8 comes out, which should only be the work of a few hours; I want the absolute technical mechanics to be clear (what key does what, how do you move, blah blah), but I want other “mechanics” – like people get bored if you ask stupid questions – to be discovered over time…

    • Yeah, exactly that. Hmm… the effects I think will be quite slow and gradual, but once they have build up, they will take a while to vanish; so that gives new players plenty of chance, and room for error, but also makes meaningful long-term strategic impact out of whatever happens in these random-asking conversations.

      Oh, yes, of course. Bribes may well help in many situations…

  4. At the start of your work in it, I assumed you would end with a description of the conversation instead of the actual dialogue lines (Something like “After a brief exchange, your knowledge of this person’s language allows you to understand something about [CASUAL_ITEM] and where is buried [IMPORTANT_PERSON]”).

    But you didn’t, and it’s quite impressive.

    When your game is eventually finished, hope you give a lot of conferences, papers and interesting stuff I (and more important, real developers) can read about!

    • Oh, interesting! I think I did consider something slightly like that once (I recall talking on the blog a lot about how much the *player* should know and how much the player *character* should know) but dismissed it relatively quickly, basically because of what I saw I could potentially do with some proper conversations and some proper speech generation.

      Oh, I will! I’ve just put in a bunch of proposals to this year’s GDC, and I’ll probably try to speak at GDC/GDCE at least once every year from this point onwards. It’s just tricky to fit into my schedule! I’ve got a book chapter coming out on PCG soon, though, and there’s always the possibility of writing a book entirely about the PCG…

  5. I still can’t believe you are just one man. Are you sure you aren’t actually secretly paying a team of people to write the game for you?? The reason I say this is due to the recent letdown by No Man’s Sky. I’m not sure you were aware, but just a few months ago it’s lead developer was boasting that the NPC’s will not use precanned dialogue, but will use procedural dialogue. They were supposed to be aware of their planet and it’s local conditions, among other things.

    The final version has no procedural dialogue, each of the three races instead has like 24 pre-canned dialogue lines. It’s very refreshing that you as a one man team are able to accomplish what a 15 man team could not.

    • I may be a group of tiny humans operating one very tall human body, but I am not multiple normal-sized people being paid to do everything. I wasn’t actually aware of how NMS’s NPCs were supposed to work; I’ve been watching the game, of course, but not that closely, especially with how busy I’ve been the past few months. That’s disappointing about the dialogue – did they say they plan to change this in the future? Thanks though – I appreciate it! Hopefully it’ll play as well as it looks…

  6. Looking really cool, the depth of conversations is going to be great! I finally caught up with the development posts, started from the beginning. It has been really fascinating to see how the game has changed and evolved over the past few years. Cant wait to see what else is in store 🙂

    • Hey! Thanks, and that’s awesome that you’ve gone through from the start – as you’ll have seen, I had a pretty substantial “epiphany” about what the game was going to be a few years ago, moving away from a standard fantasy roguelike and towards this alternate-history-detective-mystery, and then nothing has really changed since then; it has just been a matter of actually implementing everything. Do let me know what you think of 0.8 once it finally gets released!

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